Most Baby Boomers remember the celebratory final episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Everyone in the newsroom was fired except for Ted. Lou Grant (Edward Asner) tells his colleagues, “I treasure you people” and Moore as Mary Richards, Betty White as Sue Anne Nivens, Ted Knight as Ted Baxter, and the others assemble in what might be the world’s most famous group hug.
But what about our favorite shows that stopped, without a flourish? While some shows had movie versions a generation later (“The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Brady Bunch”) what did we miss from what-may-have-been the iconic finale?
Now enjoying new life on ME-TV, the legal drama “Perry Mason” ran nine seasons from 1957 to 1966 with a typical last episode. I wanted a bit more romance, though I’m not sure if the lead couple was Perry (Raymond Burr) and confidential secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) or Perry and drop-dead gorgeous detective Paul Drake (William Hopper, Jr.) And how about a final episode in which lead prosecutor Hamilton Burger (ever noticed that’s Ham Burger, for short?) killed someone, and Perry gets the case and wins his former rival’s freedom?
“Gunsmoke,” the second longest running primetime show, did not meet my tween romantic dreams, either. While hints of romance trailed Marshal Dillon (Jim Arness) and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) throughout the series, she always seemed to walk upstairs alone at the Longbranch Saloon. A grand finale would be the wedding of the two stars with Festus Hagen (Ken Curtis) as the best man. And Burt Reynolds could return as Quint and play any part of the wedding he pleased because he was by far the prettiest one in the cast.
One favorite show had a finale, but it had a stale plot and critics panned it. “The Brady Bunch,” was popular on ABC for five seasons. Star Robert Reed, who played architect and father Mike Brady, refused to participate in what he felt was a ridiculous last episode, so it aired without him. Oldest son Greg (Barry Williams) somehow dyes his hair orange before his high school graduation. What happened to the dalliance between Alice the maid (Ann B. Davis) and Sam, the butcher (Allan Melvin)? Did Tiger (Tiger) the dog go to a nice farm upstate or the local dog pound? A real final episode could have solved those mysteries as well as unveiled a new, larger house. It always bothered me that Dad was an architect, yet they lived in a three-bedroom house (well, except for Alice’s love nest in the back.)
Though “The Beverly Hillbillies” starred in several movies a generation later, I’m just sorry there was no final episode with the series regulars. I wanted to see Jethro Bodine (Max Baer) make something of himself. Millionaire Jed Clampett’s (Buddy Ebsen) nephew Jethro always had some new career scheme, from frogman to brain surgeon. Jethro probably didn’t reach quite high enough, because today—with his well-known giant intellect and ciphering ability—he would be well-qualified as POTUS.
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